1957 - 2010
MATTHAY-Melissa, known to her friends and family as "Lissy," died on August 23, 2010 in Los Angeles. She was 53. A well-known designer of couture knitwear, she was the original owner of the trend-setting Yarn Co. in uptown Manhattan, an enterprise that helped fuel a nationwide passion for knitting. In 1996, New York Magazine included the store in its "Best of New York" issue, and Vogue Knitting Magazine International later named it an "Inspirational Yarn Shop," whose celebrity clientele included Julia Roberts and Gregory Hines. Family Circle Magazine, which featured a seven-page spread on Lissy in 2006, called her a knitting "diva," and she appeared on HGTV's "Knitty Gritty" in 2005. A self-taught knitter, she became a designer for top international yarn companies, including Missoni, Lane Borgosesia, and Tahki.
Using bright splashes of color and natural fibers, Lissy created playful designs in teal, raspberry, indigo, and other vivid hues, sometimes throwing in exotic materials like pheasant feathers or confetti yarn. She also found a depth and spirituality in her work, as profoundly expressed in a custom-made tallis she created for the Bat Mitvah of her best friend's daughter.
Her fashion line, ByMelissa, includes wedding knitwear, "Kritter Knits," and handcrafted bags made with hand-dyed yarn. Lissy's knitting patterns were published in seven books co-authored with Sheryl Thies, including "The Little Box of Scarves I and II," "The Little Box of Sweaters," "Basically Brilliant Knits," and "Perfectly Brilliant Knits." She also wrote "Knits Three Ways" and "Children's Knits." Lissy's customers and admirers will be knitting her designs for years to come, and those lucky enough to own one of her custom-made pieces will feel her warmth remaining in the sweaters and scarves that she stitched with such love and skill.
Mary Melissa Matthay was born July 1, 1957 in Janesville, Wisconsin, the daughter of a Parker Pen executive whose business took him and his family to France, where she spent her early childhood years. At 17, she moved from Janesville to New York City with hopes of becoming a modern dancer, and studied briefly with the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater before starting her career in knitting design. In the late 1990s, she returned to her native Wisconsin, transforming the Knitting Tree in Madison into a local mecca for knitting devotees and novices alike.
Lissy will be remembered for the intense love she brought to everyone in her orbit; her joyful, suffocating hugs; and her unforgettable French-accented, New York-edged Wisconsin-ese "this-this-this" mixture of talking and laughter, punctuated with guffaws and a thunderous clap of her hands.
She leaves behind two sons, Aaron and Dylan Davis; her sisters, Camy Matthay (Paul Hastil) and F.J. (Jeannie) Bergmann (Fred); aunt Marion Tomlinson (Ray); nephew, Ben Hastil; nieces Emma Hastil and Philippa, Leona, and Trillian Bergmann; along with many fans and good friends.
Contributions may be made to the Aaron and Dylan Davis Irrevocable Trust, c/o Camy Matthay, 5708 Bellbrook Road, Brooklyn, Wisconsin, 53521. Memorial service information forthcoming here and/or on Melissa Matthay's Facebook page
Published in New York Times from Sep. 2 to Sep. 3, 2010.